What is dressage?

I have a trail riding buddy that occasionally brings up the fact that I ride/rode dressage.  At first it was the very occasional question about what level and whether I’d shown previously. Lately, it seems like my riding buddy has been questioning how I can be a goofball on trail rides and yet still fit into the pre-defined concept of what a dressage rider is supposed to represent.

I desperately want to tell my riding buddy that the pre-defined concepts are wrong. But every time I try, it comes out jumbled and utterly inadequate.

I don’t know how to explain dressage to my riding buddy in a way that accurately captures what dressage really is. It seems like our terminology in the U.S. is laden with words that mean control. Our definition for Submission (the base of everything) means “yielding to a superior force”.  Stephen Peters said that he felt the word “cooperation” was more in line with the original meaning. Even the USEF committee felt the word submission was being misinterpreted so they changed the entire Submission directive this year to read, “Willing cooperation, harmony, attention and confidence, acceptance of bit and aids, straightness, lightness of forehand and ease of movements.”

It seems like the topic of what dressage is only comes up when I’m completely off guard. I end up stuttering out some gibberish. Sometimes I unintentionally reinforce the belief that dressage means controlling/dominating a horse when I try to explain that it’s about precision, refinement, and power.

So, how do you explain what dressage really is to a non-dressage person, in a language steeped with words that have underlying meanings of dominating, subjugating, and forcing?

How do you explain it in such a way that the gist is conveyed before they lose interest and change the subject? What is the ‘elevator pitch’ you give to explain dressage?

8 thoughts on “What is dressage?

  1. I have just started doing dressage. To me it’s simple. It’s a pattern of movements on a bit of paper that I try and learn. I ride what’s on the bit of paper most of the time. It’s showjumping without the jumps.
    What level am I, the staying in the ring level, not knocking anything over, the level where the judge writes “some confusion over the canter” and “enthusiastic canter” 🙂


    • LOL! I’ve gotten quite a few “enthusiastic canter” comments. Those are the comments you can laugh about later with your friends.
      Best of luck with your dressage training. I’ve been doing this several years, and I’m *still* just trying to ride around without knocking stuff over. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I usually just explain that the meaning of dressage is to learn. So I am constantly trying to learn how to be a better rider, and dressage movements are gymnastics to strengthen and supple your horse and help your horse be a stronger, and more fun horse to ride. It’s a life long journey and dressage horses can do many things besides dressage. Sort cows, pull logs in the woods, trail ride, pull carts, anything you want to do.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Sounds to me like both you and Carol are just describing marriage from a womans perspective. Husbands must be submissive, pull logs in the woods, pull carts, anything you want to do.
    Replace the word horse with man in your description- “Sometimes I unintentionally reinforce the belief that “marriage” means controlling/dominating a man, when I try to explain that it’s about precision, refinement, and power.”


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